September 19, 2011
School of Communication, Coimbatore
Iftikhar Gilani, a prominent Kashmir-based journalist, is Special Correspondent for the Tehelka Group. In 2010, Gilani was conferred an award for ‘Outstanding Contribution in Media’ by the government of Jammu and Kashmir.
Gilani is the acclaimed author of the 2005 Penguin best seller My Days in Prison. The Urdu translation of this book won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, India’s highest literary prize. The book describes the days Gilani spent in the Tihar jail, following his arrest in connection with the Official Secrets Act.
During his two decades as journalist, Gilani worked with national newspapers such as the Indian Express and The Pioneer.
Iftikhar Gilani was at the Amrita campus in Coimbatore to participate in the seminar on Conflict Reporting and Peace Journalism. ASCOM faculty and students spoke to the distinguished journalist. Given below are some excerpts from the interview.
You’re a Kashmiri. Was it difficult when you were arrested in 2002?
Ans: I was working for a newspaper which is seen as anti-establishment in Kashmir. I was targeted and arrested. But thankfully for me; the national media—particularly in Delhi—stood by me and I was released after only seven and a half months in Tihar jail.
You have dubbed the Officials Secrets Act to be archaic in an interview. Can you explain?
Ans: The Act that was enacted in 1923 mainly to curb the freedom movement. But this Act is still in the statute book. It’s not just me; it is the Administrative Reforms Commission; the Judicial Commission; National Law Commission; everybody has recommended that the Act be repealed. In this information age where we focus on Right to Information, this law has no place in the system.
Did you ever lose faith in the judiciary system? How was life inside the prison?
Ans: At one point of time, I did lose hope in the judiciary system. The political establishment withdrew the case because of pressure from the journalists. Life inside a prison is difficult.
Yes, we read about the difficulties you faced in prison …
Ans: I was beaten up many times while inside the prison. For forty-one days, I worked as a labourer. It was good that I had such an experience (laughs). Recently some of my journalist friends visited Tihar jail and wrote reports about the life inside the prison but it’s entirely a different experience through the eyes of a prisoner.
How did your family cope up with your arrest?
Ans: When the raids were conducted at my house in Delhi, my children were in Kashmir. My wife is a homemaker and had never ventured out alone in Delhi. It was a painful experience for us … but she coped with the situation. She met my friends; organized things with the lawyer. She was the only visitor to the prison as the prison rules were very strict regarding visitors. It was indeed a tough time but we had the support of family and friends.
Tell us more about the situation in Kashmir.
Ans: In some areas, the military-civilians ratio is very high. It is not that the people want total withdrawal of the army but yes, there are certain districts that don’t need any army personnel. Recently all of India joined in with the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. But for the people of Kashmir, corruption is relatively a minor issue, when compared to the ones which they confront on a day-to-day basis.
Do you think that the media is more market-driven these days?
Ans: Yes. It is a consumer-driven media now. It is difficult for media to survive without consumers. You could see the kind of coverage the firing on farmers in Pune and Anna Hazare’s movement got—there was 298 hours of continuous coverage by news channels.
You had visited the Amrita campus in 2005. Do you see any differences now?
Ans: Last time was a very short visit; I accompanied our former President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Now, I see a lot of new buildings that have come up. But it is still as green as it was before.